Measuring visitors’ learning in museums, libraries and archives
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentCommunication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
History and Archaeology: Curatorial and Related Studies
Summary of the impact
For decades, museums tended to describe and present their social and
cultural value through simplistic measures such as visitor numbers;
understanding the impact of museums on their visitors was elusive and
there was no means of collecting this evidence and presenting it in a
rigorous, coherent and useful way. The Generic Learning Outcomes model
(GLOs) was developed as a tool for museums, libraries and archives to
demonstrate the outcomes and impact of users' learning experiences. The
framework has revolutionised the way in which visitors' experiences are
understood by providing practitioners, government and funders with a
meaningful way to describe and evidence the impact of museum experiences
on visitors and to report on these collectively. This research has had a
significant and lasting impact on museum policy and practice by providing
both a language to describe and present the learning that takes place in
museums and a flexible tool for capturing and measuring a range of visitor
experiences across the cultural heritage sector.
The Generic Learning Outcomes (GLOs) emerged from the Learning Impact
Research Project (LIRP) (1). The Research Centre for Museums and
Galleries (RCMG) - established in 1999 with the explicit goal of pursuing
research that would directly engage with cultural institutions and policy
makers and funders; shape museum practice; and benefit audiences - was
commissioned by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (the MLA,
formerly Re:source) to undertake LIRP as part of a broader initiative, Inspiring
Learning for All, an improvement framework for museums, libraries
and archives to develop more effective learning environments for their
users. The research objectives of LIRP were:
- To develop an understanding of `learning' and `learning outcomes' in
museums, archives and libraries informed by both current theoretical
approaches to lifelong learning and contemporary practice in the sector.
- To develop a limited number of generic methods/tools of collecting,
collating, analysing and demonstrating evidence of these learning
- To develop an Evaluation Plan and Toolkit that shows how to use the
tools in organisations across the sector on a regular basis, and how to
collect, analyse and present the evidence of learning across the sector
as a whole.
- To add value to the Evaluation Toolkit through providing additional
methods/tools of demonstrating learning outcomes that may be used to
provide supplementary evidence specific to individual organisations.
LIRP ran from 2001-2003. The research team was led by Professor Eilean
Hooper-Greenhill (PI), former Director of RCMG, and Jocelyn Dodd (CoI),
Research Manager. Over 700 cultural professionals were involved in
consultation and piloting of the GLOs. The GLOs were founded on the
premise that learning outcomes are experienced by individuals but can be
classified into five broad categories of learning impact (6, 7):
Knowledge and Understanding; Skills; Attitudes and Values; Enjoyment,
Inspiration, Creativity; and Activity, Behaviour, Progression.
The GLOs draw on socio-cultural and constructivist notions of learning as
a process of active meaning-making where learning is lifelong, involving
the emotions and the intellect. The GLOs are designed to be open-ended and
flexible in order to respond to a broad range of learning experiences that
take place in museums, libraries and archives, and to take into account
that the informal learning environment of cultural organisations makes it
especially difficult to determine the outcomes of informal learning
experiences where learners establish their own agendas (7, 8).
Immediately following LIRP, RCMG was commissioned by Museums, Libraries
and Archives Council (MLA) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport
(DCMS) to pioneer the GLOs methodology on a large-scale. Four national
studies from 2003-2007 (2, 3, 4, 5) collected evidence of learning
impact from schools and community groups using museums, involving
approximately 70,000 participants. The research provided rich evidence of
the significance and value of museum learning experiences, and
demonstrated the robustness of the GLOs as a method. The results of this
research, when presented as part of MLA's submission to the Comprehensive
Spending Review (2004), was described by the Treasury as the `most
compelling evidence'. It played a significant part in securing an extra
£15 million of public funding for the museum sector. Keith Nicol, then
Deputy Director, Museums, Libraries and Cultural Property Division,
Department for Culture, Media and Sport wrote: `The innovative and well
designed research of RCMG has provided valuable evidence and insight which
has been used to inform Government policy in museum education'.
The use of the GLOs by professional researchers to carry out research and
impact studies might have been an end in itself; however it was only the
beginning of the take-up of the GLOs by the museum profession in the UK
References to the research
Evidence of the quality of research: Outputs from the
research projects described above were submitted as part of the RAE in
2008 in which the School of Museum Studies was ranked as having the
highest proportion (at 65%) of world leading researchers compared with any
other subject area in the UK. The scale of the projects and the range of
funders involved is indicative of the pressing need for the research
amongst cultural sector bodies in the UK. The research was funded through
six related projects, with awards totalling £656,763. Research awards were
provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS); the
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA, formerly known as
Re:source); and two regional museum, library and archive agencies.
(2) Hooper-Greenhill, E., Dodd, J., Phillips, M., O'Riain, H., Jones, C.
and Woodward, J. (2004), What did you learn at the museum today? The
evaluation of the impact of the Renaissance in the Regions Education
Programme in the three Phase 1 Hubs (August, September and October 2003),
(3) Hooper-Greenhill, E., Dodd, J., Gibson, L., Phillips, M., Jones, C.
and Sullivan, E. (2006), What did you learn at the museum today?
Second study: Evaluation of the outcomes and impact of learning through
the implementation of the Education Programme Delivery Plan across nine
Regional Hubs (2005), MLA/RCMG.
(4) Hooper-Greenhill, E., Dodd, J., Phillips, M., Jones, C., Woodward, J.
and O'Riain, H. (2004), Inspiration, Identity, Learning: The Value of
Museums, The evaluation of the impact of DCMS/DfES Strategic
Commissioning 2003-2004: National/ Regional Museum Education
Partnerships, DCMS/RCMG. (https://swww2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/rcmg/projects/inspiration-identity-learning-1)
(5) Hooper-Greenhill, E., Dodd, J., Creaser, C., Sandell, R., Jones, C.
and Woodham, A. (2007), Inspiration, Identity, Learning: The Value of
Museums, Second Study: An evaluation of the DCMS/DCSF National/Regional
Museum Partnership Programme in 2006-2007, DCMS/RCMG. (https://swww2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/rcmg/projects/inspiration-identity-learning-2)
(6) Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2004), `Measuring learning outcomes in museums,
archives and libraries: the Learning Impact Research Project (LIRP)', International
Journal of Heritage Studies, 10 (2): 151-74.
(7) Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2007), Museums and Education: Purpose,
Pedagogy, Performance, London and New York: Routledge.
(8) Dodd, J. (2009) `The Generic Learning Outcomes: A conceptual
framework for researching learning in informal learning environments' in
Vavoula, G., Pachler, N. and Kukulska-Hulme, A. (eds), Researching
Mobile Learning: Frameworks, methods and research, Oxford, Peter
Details of the impact
A new approach to understanding and evidencing the value of museum
The GLOs provided the museums sector with a robust
and rigorously tested means of evaluating and reporting on the impact of
museum experiences on visitors' learning, a methodology that has meant
`continued high levels of both awareness and use across the sector' (10)
amongst museum professionals, policy makers and funders across the UK. The
focus on outcomes is significant for the museums sector: prior to the
GLOs, museums demonstrated their value primarily through outputs (e.g.
visitor numbers, number of exhibitions), an approach that failed to
capture their social, educational and cultural impact. The GLOs provided a
much more sophisticated and nuanced way for museum practitioners to
understand (and ultimately to enhance) the learning experiences they
provided for visitors as well as a rigorous way to collect and present
credible and compelling evidence of the outcomes of their activities to
funders and governing bodies.
By 2008, as Sue Wilkinson (then Director of Policy and Sustainability at
the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) confirmed, the GLOs shaped
the approach to museum education evaluation in 77% of museums in England (19).
A report by the Culture and Learning Consortium in 2009 - Get It: The
Power of Cultural Learning — (9) asserted that the GLOs were
`now used widely in the sector to plan and evaluate learning'. Since then,
the GLOs have become increasingly embedded in the thinking and practice of
museums across the UK. All museums in England in receipt of government
funding (through Renaissance in the Regions and subsequent
schemes, now administered by Arts Council England) were aware of the GLOs
and the vast majority reported that awareness extended beyond their
learning teams and had been used more widely in partnership programmes
with other (non-Renaissance funded) organisations (10). Most
reported using the GLOs to help shape their thinking about learning.
`Three quarters of Heads of Learning from Renaissance-funded museums
consider that the GLOs have helped the sector to take on board a wider
definition of learning, with almost as many feeling that the GLOs have
given the sector a shared language to talk about museum learning' (10).
CyMAL, part of the Welsh Assembly government, endorses the GLOs framework
as part of its grant programme and museums are encouraged to use it in
developing evaluation for their projects (11). The Northern
Ireland Museums Council (2009) (12) recommended that the GLOs be
adopted as a standard quality and assurance mechanism across its museums.
Museums and Galleries Scotland promotes the GLOs for evaluation by its
members (13) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and
Historical Monuments of Scotland used the GLOs in their 2009 project, Treasured
Places (14). A growing number of UK Science and Discovery
Centres have adopted the GLOs to measure the impact of their programmes (15),
including Techniquest in Wales.
A tool to enhance visitor experiences
Although intended primarily for use by learning professionals in the
museum sector to evaluate the impact of learning programmes with a range
of visitors, the GLOs have gone on to impact the sector in unanticipated
ways, most notably through their use to underpin the planning of major new
capital developments in museums. For example, the GLOs underpinned the
£47million redevelopment of the National Museum of Scotland in 2008-2011 (10).
Indeed, many national museums have adopted the GLOs to inform their
approach to a wide range of initiatives. The Imperial War Museum, for
example, has embedded the GLOs into working practices across the museum.
Since 2008 the Museum's use of the GLOs has become increasingly extensive
and sophisticated across the organisation. The museum's staff use the
framework to evaluate all their programmes, and to inform the ongoing
development of their learning provision. The GLOs underpin the
interpretive approach to all major gallery and exhibition developments,
including the new First World War gallery which will open in 2014 (10).
Influencing cultural policy
Although developed specifically for use by museums, the GLO framework — by
offering a flexible, rigorous and credible means of capturing the impact
of cultural engagement on the individual — has significantly impacted the
work of policy makers, funders and related agencies in the cultural
sector. For example, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the largest dedicated
funder of the UK's heritage with around £375 million per annum to invest
in new projects, continues to encourage use by all funding recipients of
the GLOs for evaluating the impact of their work (16). HLF's
recently published 2013-18 Strategic Framework now includes a single aim
and set of outcomes for people that have been informed by the GLOs. GLOs
will also form part of the evaluation framework for the new Museums and
Schools Programme, a £3.6 million targeted investment by the Department
for Education in response to the Henley Review (10).
The influence of the GLOs has spread across the cultural sector beyond
museums to organisations as diverse as the BBC, National Trust and the UK
Association for Science and Discovery Centres. The latter looked to the
GLOs as a methodology `used extensively by most government-funded museums
in England,' to develop a set of indicators to measure the collective
impact of science and discovery centres (15).
The GLOs beyond the UK
The interest in the GLOs is not confined to the UK. Internationally, an
increasing number of museums are looking at adopting and adapting the GLOs
framework for their own contexts. For example, in Sweden, Malmo Museums
used the GLOs to evaluate the experiences of children and teachers during
a pilot project in 2008. Several other Swedish museums have followed,
supported by training sessions on the use of the framework. The Swedish
Exhibition Agency, Riksutställningar, is using the GLOs in 2013 as a
creative development tool for the museum/art/science/heritage sector, with
seminars and training courses. In 2011 a study carried out at the
University of Lund explored the relevance of the GLOs for the Swedish
cultural sector concluding that they `can help balance the economics-based
discourse and put more focus on the qualitative aspects and values of
museums and culture.' (17, 20) In Austria, the Exhibition
Evaluation Manager of KIMUS Kindermuseum in Graz has used the Generic
Learning Outcomes to evaluate their programmes since 2010 (18). In
the US, the GLOs have been used to determine educational programme impact
at the St Louis Zoo since 2012 (21).
Sources to corroborate the impact
(9)Culture and Learning Consortium (2009), Get It: the Power of
Cultural Learning, Available online: http://www.imaginate.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Culture-Learning-Printed-Report-Web.pdf
(10) Graham, J. (2013), Evidencing the impact of the GLOs, 2008-13,
Learning Unlimited. Available online at www.le.ac.uk/museumstudies/rcmg/publications
(11) Welsh Government (2010), Inspiring Learning for All,
Available online: http://cymru.gov.uk/topics/cultureandsport/museumsarchiveslibraries/cymal/resources/inspiringlearning/?lang=en
(12) Northern Ireland Museums Council (2009) Learning within Museums
in Northern Ireland - Learning Report Available online: http://www.nimc.co.uk/research-and-publications/
(13) Museums Galleries Scotland (2013) Inspiring Learning for All,
Available online: - http://www.museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk/what-we-do/research-and-evaluation/how-to-carry-out-evaluations/
(14) Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
(2013), Treasured Places. Available online: http://www.treasuredplaces.org.uk/workshops/index.php
(15) The Association for Science and Discovery Centres (2010), Assessing
the Impact of UK Science and Discovery Centres: Towards a set of common
indicators, Available online: http://sciencecentres.org.uk/govreport/docs/Assessing%20the%20impact%20of%20UK%20science%20and%20discovery%20centres;%20towards%20a%20set%20of%20common%20indicators%20%20May%2021%202010%20ASDC.pdf
(16) Heritage Lottery Fund (2008) Evaluating your HLF project.
Available online: - http://www.hlf.org.uk/preApril2013/furtherresources/Documents/Evaluating_your_HLF_project.pdf
(17) Jönsson. A. and Peterson. E. (2011), The Concerned Museum. GLO -
a language for change?, Available online: http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=1977005&fileOId=1977798
(18) Kindermuseum (n.d.) Evaluation and Research. Available
online: - http://www.fridaundfred.at/cms/5780/Evaluierung_und_Forschung/
(19) Former Director of Policy and Sustainability Museums, Libraries and
(20) Independent consultant
(21) Audience Research Manager, Saint Louis Zoo, USA